How to Safely Manage All Your Passwords

Once upon a time, the Internet was small, populated mostly by hobbyists and nerds who used it to argue about whether Kirk or Picard made a better captain. Nobody shopped online, because nothing was for sale online. Those halcyon days of sweet, naive innocence… lasted about 20 minutes.

Now, the “Wayback Machine” web site archives over 150 billion web pages. I wasn’t able to find any info on what percentage of sites or pages require a login, so I’m going to S.W.A.G. it at 10%, just for the heck of it. Lots of people write their login info on sticky notes, and stick them to something. So if we wrote the password for each site on a sticky note, it would make a stack of yellow stickies 1,116 miles high.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to suggest that you start cornering the sticky note market. In fact, I’m willing to bet that 10% of your logins are used at least 90% of the time. Which is why we all have so much trouble remembering our passwords for the other 90%. Here are a few simple rules that will make your surfing life easier.

Never write down a login password on paper.

What?! Then however shall we remember them? I’ll give you a better way in just a few seconds. Everybody call up their grandparents and tell them they don’t need niggling little scraps of paper anymore, so they have to stop writing them. Nobody can read their handwriting anyway.

Pick a single password.

Just one. One single password that’s easy for you to remember. No, we’re not going to use the same password for every site. We’re going to lock up all our different passwords behind a single password that’s easy to remember.

Make a spreadsheet.

Well, just what the heck is a spreadsheet? For those of us who are a little older (like me), think of it as a table. Imagine one of those infuriating multiplication tables we all had to memorize, except that all the numbers fell out. What’s left is a pretty grid table that you can put anything you want in, and the computer will remember. The most common software for making spreadsheets (tables) is Microsoft Excel. If you have it, use it. It’s awesome; I’ve been using it since version 1.00 and it has never let me down.

If you don’t have Excel, do not run out and buy it just to keep your passwords in — it’s rather expensive. Instead, go to and get OpenOffice for free. Totally free, costs nothing, nada, zip, zilch. Download and install it. It works much the same way as Microsoft Office does, with some differences. The best part: OpenOffice will read, write, store, and edit all Microsoft Office documents, including passwords. So you can use one to make the spreadsheet, and read it with the other.

Here’s an example of how I make mine:

Password protect your spreadsheet.

Remember that single password I mentioned earlier? Use that single password to save the spreadsheet. Don’t know how? No problem! No matter whether you’re using Microsoft Excel, OpenOffice calc, or any other spreadsheet software, you can easily learn. Go to Google. Search for “How do I password protect my spreadsheet with Crazy Billy’s Wild West Spreadsheet Proggy?” (Or whatever your spreadsheet software is called.) You will get far more instructions than you ever wanted. First set doesn’t make sense you to? Then read the next set.

This step is critical! Don’t skip the password protection, or your passwords are not safe.

Back up your spreadsheet.

Make a backup copy of the spreadsheet. When it changes, make a backup copy of it again. Do not make a backup copy on the same machine as the original; that’s not a backup, and when the machine fails, you lose both the original and the backup. That’s right, when the machine fails, not if. All mechanical devices fail.

Put your spreadsheet on your thumb.

A “thumb” drive, or a portable USB flash memory drive, is ideal for this purpose. Once your spreadsheet is protected by the one password you know you can remember, you can copy it to one of these darling little thumb drives and put it wherever you want. You can find them for as little as three dollars, which is about the same as you were going to spend anyway on that pack of sticky notes. You can keep that thumb drive in your pocket, purse, glove compartment, desk drawer, or stapled to your hat. I have even worn mine on a string around my neck. As long as you can get to it easily, put it wherever you like.

Now, wherever your thumb drive is, your entire list of passwords and logins is. Just stick that thumb drive into the USB port of whatever computer you’re using, and Bob’s your uncle.

Put OpenOffice on your thumb.

There’s a chance that you may end up sticking your thumb drive into the USB port of a machine that doesn’t have an office software suite installed. Since OpenOffice is free, and not too big, put that on your thumb drive too. Then you can look all “techie” as you lecture your friends on how to use open source software to protect themselves, as you install a free office suite right from your thumb!

One last word.

This article assumes that you are seriously looking for a new solution. There are other ways to solve this same issue; I just presented the one I use for myself. Have a better one? I’d love to hear about it. Visit the discussion forum at

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